Conflicting sexual feelings about both men and women were an important factor in Piet Mondriaan’s life. The artist, whose abstract paintings are now worth hundreds of millions of euros, was uncertain about how to channel his erotic tendencies. Numerous biographies of Mondriaan’s life have been published since his death in 1944, and countless myths about his artistry have emerged. For example, some say he was a patronizing ascetic, while others claim he was a bon-vivant. American biographer Nick Weber is the first person to attempt to establish and interpret the true details of Mondriaan’s day-to-day life, without preconceived plans or ideas. Weber will defend his PhD thesis, written in the form of a biography entitled Piet Mondrian’s Early Years (1872-1919), at the University of Groningen on 20 September.
Mondriaan grew up in a religious family in Amersfoort and Winterswijk. Even as a student at the State Academy of Fine Arts (Amsterdamse Rijksacademie), he stood out as a pioneer in the field of modernism, pushing back the traditional boundaries of colour and composition. In 1912, he left for Paris, where he created his own style of cubism. Arriving back in the Netherlands during World War I, he started painting in a more abstract style, befriended the artists responsible for De Stijl magazine and became an accomplished ballroom dancer. Mondriaan returned to Paris in 1919, never to return to the Netherlands.
Nick Weber graduated from Yale and Loomis School in 1965 and is president of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation in the USA. He became fascinated by Mondriaan’s abstract work at the tender age of ten. In the past, Weber has written biographical studies of Le Corbusier, Balthus and Freud. His PhD research at the Biography Institute of the University of Groningen was supervised by Prof. Hans Renders and Dr Peter de Ruiter.
Weber’s PhD defence is part of the ‘Different Lives. Perspectives on Biography in Public Cultures and Societies’ conference (19 to 21 September), organized by the UG Biography Institute. As a genre, biographies have recently become increasingly popular with the public. Biographies determine our perspective of our national history. Often these biographies are not merely stand-alone accounts of someone’s life; only in their historical context do they become meaningful and in the context of the way in which countries usually write about individuals. The conference focuses on these traditions and several highly renowned international biographers have been invited to speak.
Contact Nick Weber: via Professor Hans Renders.More information about the conference Different Lives
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